The Dream Team of Wolfgang Holzmair and Imogen Cooper gave the keynote recital in the Wigmore Hall's Schumann year celebration of German song. Having been to nearly all their recitals since 1998 I gave this a miss but maybe I should have gone after all. Richard Fairtman at the FT reviewed it. The Kerner Lieder aren't unloved, except by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who had problems with the extremely high tessitura in sections like the young nun in Stirb, Lieb' und Freud', so he only recorded it I think twice, making DFD fans think it's less valued. It's unfair, as this is one of Schumann's most tightly constructed cycles, as full of interrelationships as a miniature symphony. Tenors sing it beautifully (Gilchrist at the Wigmore Hall in September) but it's also a favourite with baritones such as Matthias Goerne who can bring out the layers of spookiness as well as the innate musical logic.
In fact, Holzmair is one of the great Kerner-Lieder exponents. His recording - also with Imogen Cooper - is one of the essentials in the discography. Holzmair's voice is naturally light and sweet-toned, so he makes the cycle flow beautifully, so you realize it's almost a whole piece rather than a group of songs. Get it and hear why Schumann's Kerner-Lieder are so significant.
What also makes this recording significant is that Holzmair and Cooper include songs by Clara Schumann on the disc, on equal terms with the more famous Robert Schumann songs. They'd been championing Clara for years before this 2002 recording, so the songs are about as sympathetically done as you could expect. Clara was a pianist, so devoted to her work that to some extent she resented being pregnant and feeding because it took her away from her music. Robert and Clara were so close that they kept a joint diary (with code for intimacy), so her songs were an extension of this closeness. I've often wondered, though, why she didn't write more pieces for solo piano, since that was her instrument par excellence. Robert did, of course, and she played him all round Europe. But she was one of the great virtuoso megastars of her time, with a glittering international career, and contemporary with some very big names like Franz Liszt. So one dreams.
Also on the Wigmore Hall programme was Aribert Reimann’s Nachtstück which Holzmair has made an icon. It's on his 2003 CD (also with Imogen Cooper). This too is a classic, because Holzmair worked the programme around Freiherr von Eichendorff the Prussian Catholic poet and civil servant. The disc includes relatively little known Eichendorff settings such as those by Robert Franz, Zemlinsky, Korngold, Pfitzner and Othmar Schoeck. The different settings enhance the poems yet also show how each composer functions. Alas, I really don't like Reimann's Nachtstück (one of the reasons I steered clear of the WH recital) Reimann was closely associated with Fischer-Dieskau and I want to like his work, but sometimes things don't click. OTOH I adore Hans Werner Henze's Nachtstück und Arien (Michaela Kaune sings) but that's a whole other story.